Last Updated on May 3, 2023
I’m not the least bit religious, but I went to church twice this month. After five long, Covid-tainted years, Devotees/Moders/Depecheros (the last being a term I’ve recently learned) were finally blessed with a new Depeche Mode tour. We’d become accustomed to a four-year cycle of albums and touring, and with the passing of Andy Fletcher in May 2022, that almost predictable (almost) pattern had come into question. Will they tour? Or won’t they?
But then the Mode delivered, gifting us diehard fans with an album begun before Fletch’s untimely departure, the presciently named Momento Mori (“remember that you must die,” for all those who skipped Latin). A few weeks prior to the tour kickoff, fans congregated in downtown LA — one of DM’s strongholds — to admire the black-and-white mural announcing the forthcoming album and tour, with some going so far as to laying custom-made wreaths at its base in tribute to the late keyboardist/aerobics instructor/glue-that-held-the band-together.
With the shows announced, Moders wide and far swooped upon what tickets their wallets would allow, with fan bases organizing ticket purchases around the globe to ensure that die-hard Depechees (how many names do we have???) could see their idols live.
My first two shows were slated to be San Jose and Los Angeles, stops two and three. But then I learned about the Jimmy Kimmel Show appearance. After some flight changes, I arrived the day before the one-song (“Ghosts Again”) concert at which I was lucky enough to fist-bump Dave Gahan after waiting in a rare LA drizzle for several hours.
SAP Center, San Jose
I wasn’t so lucky in San Jose. Even though I had nosebleed seats, I was still looking forward to the spectacle, which my bones (and numerous postulating bloggers) told me could likely be one of the last tours of my all-time favorite band, given Fletch’s passing and the remaining members’ near-geriatric status. San Jose wasn’t a disappointment, but it was a much-diluted showing compared to any of those I’d seen on the Global Spirit Tour.
Certain DM standards not only hold up over the years but age as finely as Gahan’s voice. The lead singer held a note so long during “Walking in My Shoes” that I thought he might be trying to break Morten Harket’s record. (I honestly think he could.) However, during longtime fan fave “A Question of Lust,” Martin held back, deflating what is usually a high point of the entire concert. Alas.
Anton Corbijn continued his motif of presenting non sequitur visuals, this time with images of donkeys roaming a beach during “It’s No Good.” (Could this be one of the reasons the Projections section of the official website’s archives no longer exists?) Later, during “Everything Counts,” he took the opposite approach, with literal imagery of grabbing hands (conjuring up memories of a Mummenschanz performance in Berlin that I thought I’d repressed). That’s unfortunate, because the song is now nearly forty years old, but the concert version sounds far more modern than even some of the tracks from Memento Mori. Such a classic deserves a better presentation.
Another Corbijn trope raised its head during “A Pain That I’m Used To.” On the Global Spirit Tour, a friend of mine (a DM fan by proxy) gasped at the beginning to “In Your Room” as a hand caressed a sleeping woman. She turned to me and said, “What the fuck?” Yes, possibly an ill-timed visual in the era of #MeToo. On this tour, the dancers for “A Pain That I’m Used To” seemed to have been given conflicting directions: either OG hip-hop or Swan Lake, resulting in asynchronous moves that could have been choreographed for just about any soundtrack. (Not to detract from the dancers, whose performance was riveting otherwise.)
When “Ghosts Again” hit the projection screen, it quite possibly marked the first time that an official video was used in concert. (Moders, correct me if I’m wrong.) And no wonder — it’s an apt portrayal of the lyrics, right down to the Ingmar Bergman imagery of a chess match with Death. (Spoiler: Death wins.)
Throughout the show, I waited for the inevitable Fletch tribute. Although I welled up when his image appeared on the screen, then aged over the course of “World in My Eyes” (his favorite song of theirs), I felt more could have been done for someone who had been a vital member of the band since its very beginnings. Fletch, you are dearly missed.
I will always see Depeche Mode whenever physically and financially possible, and although the boys still put on a fine show, it felt a little too much like Global 2.0, albeit with a few new songs tossed into the setlist and drastically jacked-up ticket prices. Had Memento Mori not been their best album in two decades, I might have thought they were just phoning this in. But the work is stellar — all of the tracks are not only listenable (give “Caroline’s Monkey” some time), but some are downright bingeworthy. I’m pretty sure I’ve listened to “Before We Drown” 100+ times by now, and I’m still finding subtleties in its layers.
I’d hoped that Dave’s advanced age (and #MeToo) would have precluded any crotch-grabbing, but here he was, occasionally yanking his junk at an arena full of semi-attentive AARP members, despite his creepy-old-man mustache being long gone. Thankfully, he performed the gesture only a handful (ahem) of times.
What has always bewildered me was that, with such deliberate stage designs, the catwalk at Depeche shows are used so infrequently. This isn’t frustrating just for fans who sold their redundant organs for coveted nearby seats, but doubly so for those looking for more visual variety than what the large-screen monitors project. Why build such an elaborate set if you’re not going to use its full potential? Thankfully, the catwalk got more use on this tour, with the highlight of the San Jose show being Dave and Martin dueting on a transcendent rendition of “Waiting for the Night,” after which the two bowed to each other and hugged. (If anyone has a photo of this interaction, I’d love a copy.)
Overall Score: 7 out of 10
Kia Forum, Los Angeles
Back in LA, the Forum went all out for the Black Wave (yes, another term for us fans, so called because we descend en masse in head-to-toe mourning garb). Although it appears the venue goes to similar lengths for other acts, the lyrics adorning the outer pillars and the band’s name in panoramic lights were touches appreciated by Moders at they mingled and shelled out their remaining ducats on merch and overpriced beverages. The buzz in the pre-show crowd was already amped way higher than at any point in San Jose, so barring a heart attack, bout of of gastroenteritis, torn calf muscle, or any other Depeche malady, I knew before the opening act that the concert wouldn’t be anything other than Depechely decadent.
Although San Jose had been a fine enough show, from the first notes, LA sizzled. I don’t want to say the duo seemed finally unencumbered, as Fletch was the glue and a great chap all around, but the Forum concert showcased a synergy in the band that had been absent the last few go-rounds. The new-found camaraderie between the Dave and Martin was on full display, so much so that I began to doubt all the rumors of this being the final tour and was now looking forward to what the future might bring.
All of the must-have Mode elements were in the setlist, even the unfortunately obligatory “Just Can’t Get Enough,” which, although somewhat modernized so it doesn’t flaunt too much of its early ’80s poppiness, it’s still the black sheep of the set list.
In contrast, it takes only one bar of engine-revving for the goosebumps to sprout in anticipation of “Stripped,” a song now more than 30 years old and still rippling with all the rollercoaster emotions and filmic crescendos that sunk their hooks in me back in junior high.
When choosing tracks from the new album for the tour, I would have thought “Before We Drown” would be a shoe-in, particularly for Dave to showcase his trademark atmospheric crooning, but somehow “Speak to Me” was chosen for that job. Despite the awfulness of its name, “Wagging Tongue” has the same mixture of dance-ability and moodiness of the band’s early years, not to mention the opportunity for Dave and Martin to sing their respective counterparts.
Overall Score: 9 out of 10
Memento Mori is both a gift and a relief for fans, auditory proof that the Mode still has that magical, macabre aura that originally drew us to them. And the band knows this, having planted callbacks to previous songs as much for nostalgia as production value. (The tire screech in “People Are Good” that recalls “I Feel You.” The harmonic crooning of “Sometimes” during “Caroline’s Monkey.” Heck, even Caroline herself is a throwback to “Pretty in Pink,” the song having been co-written by the Psychedelic Furs’ own Richard Butler.)
But perhaps there’s another hidden meaning in the album: It ends as it begins, with “Speak to Me” repeating motifs from the opening “My Cosmos Is Mine.” Is Depeche saying they’ve come full circle?
Reach out and touch faith, my fellow Devotees.